Athletic Ability as a Form of Intelligence

Valerie Worthington


Princeton, New Jersey, United States

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Sport Psychology

Historically, the stereotype of the “dumb jock” has suggested people with athletic ability are not very smart. More recently, however, athletes have begun to earn the credit they deserve, and, arguably, have always deserved, for their intellect and acumen.


Harvard University cognition and education professor Howard Gardner has advanced a theory of multiple intelligences, of which bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is one type.



Gardner’s theory provides validation for the notion that sophistication and intellectual rigor contribute to elite athletic performance. It also helps explain how control of and facility with one’s own body actually occur.


Athletic Ability as a Form of Intelligence - Fitness, athletic performance, kinesthetic awareness, body awareness, athletic ability, intelligence, sports


Gardner’s book, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, describes all of the multiple intelligences as an alternative to the long-held belief that “intelligence” is along only one dimension. Additional intelligences covered in the book include musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and linguistic intelligence, among others.



People possessing bodily-kinesthetic intelligence are described as “good at body movement, performing actions and physical control. People who are strong in this area tend to have excellent hand-eye coordination and dexterity.”1


Many readers probably know one or more people who seem to be good at every sport they try, who pick up complex physical movements seemingly effortlessly, who can mimic others’ actions without much challenge.


Gardner’s theory helps us view this ability as a form of intelligence, which has positive implications for those of us who like to challenge ourselves physically - even those of us who are not so naturally gifted.


For the less gifted among us, there are ways to improve upon this intelligence as outlined in a recent article.2


Indeed, bodily-kinesthetic intelligence is described as one of the more marginalized but also one of the more widely observed intelligences in children.3


Given the evidence that suggests a physical component to learning helps in retention, it behooves all of us to develop our own bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. After all, it’s just fun to DO things!

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